David Foster Wallace’s “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men,” being composed of 23 short stories in the form of monologues by unconnected men, has always been regarded as a fine book that could never be made into a movie, or at least not a good one. (I guess anything CAN be made into a movie.) Now John Krasinski has written and directed a screen adaptation, and sure enough, everyone was right. If it can be adapted successfully, Krasinski has not found a way to do it.
This has been a pet project for Krasinski since before he became famous for playing Jim on “The Office.” Some have suggested he wouldn’t have bothered finishing the movie were it not for Wallace’s suicide in 2008. Certainly it has a labor-of-love feel to it, as well as a this-is-gonna-suck-but-we’re-committed-to-it feel. Whatever last-minute editing Krasinski was doing was probably akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
The central story, which Krasinski created to draw the monologues together, has a grad student named Sara Quinn (Julianne Nicholson) setting out to determine, anthropologically speaking, why men are such pigs. To that end, she interviews guys — ex-boyfriends, colleagues, strangers, whoever — and lets them chatter about their sexual and romantic proclivities. Krasinski has preserved a lot of Wallace’s prose here (occasionally changing the setting from a formal interview to something more informal), and some of the individual scenes work for that reason. The text is scintillating, and the actors — including Timothy Hutton, Will Arnett, Bobby Cannavale, Christopher Meloni, Denis O’Hare, Frankie Faison, Max Minghella, and Krasinski himself — obviously enjoy sinking their teeth into something dramatic and theatrical. All actors love a good monologue.
The problem is that the film is really nothing but a series of monologues, and a series of monologues, even when they are good individually, feels stale after a while. With no story, no rising action, no character arcs, we’re left with nothing to grab hold of. The movie could end now; or it could end 10 minutes from now; or it could run another two hours. The character of Sara Quinn isn’t fleshed out in any meaningful way, and obviously whatever connections we establish with the interview subjects will only last a few minutes before disappearing from the film.
In short, “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men” fails for all the reasons you’d expect it to fail. It was quixotic of Krasinski to attempt it in the first place. His passion for the project comes through loud and clear, but it takes more than passion to convert an unfilmable book into something cinematically compelling.
D (1 hr., 12 min.; )